Political Watch: November 9, 2023

• U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-California) and Mike Braun (R-Indiana) applauded the unanimous Senate passage of their bipartisan legislation to streamline veterans’ access to their benefit claim files, according to a Nov. 2 statement from Padilla’s office. The Wounded Warrior Access Act will require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish and maintain a secure online tool or website to enable veterans or their representatives to make requests to receive their claim files electronically. When a veteran submits a claim for benefits to the VA, a claims file (C-File) is created. C-Files contain a veteran’s service records, results of VA exams, additional information submitted by the veteran, and any material the VA deems necessary to decide the claim. Currently, veterans must travel to a regional VA location or mail in a form to request a paper copy of their C-Files, slowing down the process for individuals to gain access to their information. “Those who have served our country with honor, courage, and distinction deserve our nation’s enduring support and gratitude,” Padilla said in the statement. “Veterans should not have to travel to a regional VA location to access their claim file or wait for a physical copy to come in the mail; they should be able to quickly access the information they need electronically. I am glad to see my Senate colleagues unanimously stand up for our veterans today to make it easier for them to access their hard-earned benefits. I encourage President Biden to swiftly sign this legislation into law.”

• U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) announced he is reintroducing bipartisan legislation aimed at improving housing access and affordability for U.S. veterans, according to a Nov. 2 statement from Carbajal’s office. The lawmakers’ Home for the Brave Act would exempt veterans’ disability benefits from counting toward total income when determining their eligibility for housing assistance programs through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “It is wrong to deny veterans access to housing assistance programs due to disability benefits they receive for service-related injury or illness,” Carbajal said in the statement “I am proud to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation to make housing more affordable and accessible on the Central Coast and across the country. They stepped up to defend our nation, and now Congress must step up for them by ending this housing discrimination against our disabled veterans.” Financial benefits for service-connected disabilities are currently counted as income when determining eligibility for housing assistance programs through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). As a result, many veterans are determined ineligible for these housing programs because their disability benefits are placing them at a higher income level. Other agencies, including the International Revenue Service (IRS), do not consider veterans benefits for service-connected disabilities income. A veteran filing disability claims with the VA received on average $20,600 in 2022.

• As part of California’s effort to improve access to high-paying and fulfilling careers for students and workers, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state has awarded four final awards—totaling $72.5 million—for the Regional K-16 Education Collaboratives Grant Program as part of a $250 million investment in the 2021 Budget Act, according to a Nov. 2 statement from Newsom’s office. This program is a key component of a statewide strategy for strengthening regional economies, improving education-to-career pathways, and ensuring that education, vocational, and workforce programs work in partnership to provide broader access to education and employment opportunities, according to the governor’s office. The funds were awarded by the Department of General Services (DGS), Office of Public School Construction, and the Foundation for California Community Colleges. “Every Californian should have the freedom to succeed by obtaining real-life skills and fulfilling careers—including those that don’t require college degrees. With today’s investment, California is yet again going further to prepare students and workers for high-paying, long-lasting, and fulfilling careers,” Newsom said in the statement.

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